Theatre Reviews

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire by Rapture Theatre

a streetcar named desire

Rating: ★★ (2 stars)

Play: A Streetcar Named Desire

Playwright Tennessee Williams

Director: Michael Emans

Company: Rapture Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal Glasgow

Performance Date: 9 Sept. 2017

Summary: “Southern belle, Blanche DuBois, seeks solace with her sister, Stella, after her world starts to crumble. But her downward spiral brings her face-to-face with Stella’s husband, the sexy but brutal Stanley Kowalski. As temperatures soar and passions rise, Blanche and Stanley battle for Stella’s soul.” (Source: http://www.atgtickets.co.uk)

Content Warnings*: Domestic abuse, verbal abuse/threat, sexism, racism, vivid description of a suicide, alcoholism.

*N.B. Please note that this review is only a review of the first act of the play, I had to leave due to personal reasons.


My thoughts

Tennessee Williams’ play could have been so much more, I am gravely disappointed in this production. I was expecting much more impact from the cast as an ensemble, but only Gina Isaac (Blanche DuBois) kept the energy up. Isaac’s performance was captivating and authentic; during Blanche’s monologues, I became immersed in her poetic descriptions as Isaac’s voice was entrancing, she truly brought Blanche’s charm and wit to life.

a streetcar named desire still
Kazeem Tosin Amore (Mitch) and Gina Isaac (Blanche)

As for the rest of the cast, I was frustrated with the lack of accent work and with some, authenticity. Julia Taudevin’s performance as Stella was dry and wooden, I felt that Taudevin was overwhelmed by Isaac’s energy and relied on Isaac’s presence. In their scenes, Stella felt barely there. Additionally, Joseph Black’s performance as Stanley was pushing on caricature which was especially noticeable during Stanley’s famous cry for his wife – it ultimately felt forced which ruined the moment.

The staging was ideal as it was small and cramped for the three central characters, the pale lighting was effective, but the pale moon in the background felt superficial and added without thought.

Why did I attend this play?

I love Tennessee Williams’ work, so I had to see this.

Would I attend another Rapture Theatre production?

Next time, I think I will pass.

Overall…

A Streetcar Named Desire should have blown me away, but it simply lacked energy and authenticity from the majority of the cast.

– Melissa Jennings


Have you seen A Streetcar Named Desire?

What were your thoughts? Let me know!


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Theatre Reviews

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by National Theatre

the curious incident

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Play: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Author: Mark Haddon

Playwright: Simon Stephens

Director: Marianne Elliot

Company: National Theatre

Genre: Drama

Venue: King’s Theatre Glasgow

Performance Date: 17 Aug. 2017

Summary: “Christopher, fifteen years old, stands beside Mrs Shears’ dead dog. It has been speared with a garden fork, it is seven minutes after midnight and Christopher is under suspicion. He records each fact in the book he is writing to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington. He has an extraordinary brain, exceptional at maths while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and he distrusts strangers. But his detective work, forbidden by his father, takes him on a frightening journey that upturns his world.” (Source: curiousonstage.com)

Content Warnings: strong language, “dead dog” prop, domestic abuse, use of a knife.


My thoughts

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a truly stellar play. Its plot and protagonist, Christopher Boone played by Scott Reid, are equally unrelenting which made the play so engrossing. At first, I was a bit dubious about the casting choice of Scott Reid in such a young role (Christopher is fifteen years old), but once the first act commenced, I could see why he was chosen. From the beginning, Reid is invested in his role both vocally and physically; a lot of effort and thought was put in for the characterisation of Christopher. On a side note, Frantic Assembly (a physical theatre company) had input on Marianne Elliot’s production, which I think is what made the play so engaging – the audience could step into Christopher’s mind through the physicality of the ensemble.

 

scott reid as christopher
Scott Reid (Christopher Boone) and ensemble

The main theme of the play is Christopher’s autism, he has Asperger’s Syndrome. Simon Stephens, the playwright of the book adaptation, treats the condition with sensitivity, exploring how Christopher’s father copes. David Michaels portrays Ed Boone authentically, trying to understand his son’s world and thoughts.

In addition, Lucianne McEvoy who plays Christopher’s teacher is a great presence onstage as she encourages Christopher’s interests and becomes the voice of reason when the world becomes too much for Christopher. Elliot’s choice to have Siobhan on stage during certain moments was meaningful as she is possibly the most supportive person in Christopher’s life.

On a side note, I was mildly concerned about Toby who was portrayed by an ACTUAL rat (there were two rats’ names listed in the programme: Dumbo and Meeko – how cute!) on stage. There was one part of the play where Toby’s cage gets thrown around, but according to the programme “no animals were harmed in the making of this production”, so I hope that is the case.

Why did I attend this play?

I read Mark Haddon’s book years ago and its style was quite unusual, so when I heard that it was touring the UK, I knew I had to see it.

Would I attend another National Theatre production?

Yes, I would. I’ve seen three National Theatre productions this year so far, and I look forward to seeing many more!

Overall…

Simon Stephens’ play is true to Mark Haddon’s fantastic novel. I think this play will continue for many years to come.

– Melissa Jennings


Have you seen The Curious Incident?

What were your thoughts? Let me know!

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Theatre Reviews

Review: Penetrator by Fear No Colours

penetrator
Tom White (left) as Tadge and Chris Duffy (right) as Max

Rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)

Play: Penetrator

Playwright: Anthony Neilson

Director: Julia Midtgard

Company: Fear No Colours

Genre: Thriller

Venue: C-cubed, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Performance Date: 10 Aug. 2017

Summary: “Flatmates Max and Alan are happily nursing their hangovers when their old friend Tadge arrives on their door, AWOL from the army and just in time to upset the delicate balance of chill nothings. Something happened to him in the Black Room, where the Penetrators are, something too terrible to speak of. So it must be shown.” (Source: fearnocolours.com)

Content Warnings: simulated sex, masturbation, explicit language, violence, descriptions of rape.


My thoughts

Penetrator is not for the light-hearted and neither was the Fear No Colours’ production. The play literally opens in darkness and gradually, reality begins to blur for the three characters. The shift in atmosphere commences with the entrance of Tadge, portrayed by Tom White, who is evidently disturbed by a series of events. White’s restless character was intriguing to watch, even when he was not speaking. You could see the cogs turning in Tadge’s mind which reflected on his face. Despite seeing his face, White’s character was unpredictable, which made his performance intense and thoroughly captivating.

The shift in atmosphere commences with the entrance of Tadge, portrayed by Tom White, who is evidently disturbed by a series of events. White’s restless character was intriguing to watch, even when he was not speaking. You could see the cogs turning in Tadge’s mind which reflected on his face. Despite seeing his face, White’s character was unpredictable, which made his performance intense and thoroughly captivating.

Unlike Tadge, Max hides a lot behind his dark humour and seemingly apathetic attitude. At the start of the play, Max comes across lazy, much to the annoyance of his flatmate, Alan. Some of Max’s misogynistic and abhorrent beliefs were delivered with acidic truth by Chris Duffy.  The final scenes of Penetrator are where Duffy shines, or rather, where Max is at his darkest.

However, Matt Roberts’ performance was the weakest of the three. I felt that Roberts’ expressions were annoyingly exaggerated throughout the play, in particular during the eye contact with Tadge. In general, I think the whole cast needs to project and articulate much more as some of the lines/impersonations were lost amongst mumbling, shouting, and laughter.

Why did I attend this play?

In-Yer-Face plays are not often performed due to their explicit and uncomfortable content, so it was a must.

Would I attend another Fear No Colours production?

The company regularly tackles difficult issues, so absolutely, I like being challenged.

Overall…

If you enjoy challenging, visceral theatre, then this is for you. The play is being extended at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe according to the Fear No Colour’s Twitter, so make sure to follow them to keep updated.

– Melissa Jennings


What challenging plays have you seen at the Fringe?

Let me know!

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Literature Reviews

Review: Shopping and F***ing by Mark Ravenhill

s and f (1)

Rating: ★★★ (3 stars)

Play: Shopping and F***ing

Playwright: Mark Ravenhill

Genre: In-Yer-Face

Where to buy: Shopping & F***ing

Summary: The plot follows a crowd of drifters and sex traders in a seedy area of London in the 1990s. Five main characters are linked loosely and intermittently and at the centre of the play is an ever-changing love triangle of petty criminals. (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: drug abuse, threat, violence, rape, blood, sexual abuse, explicit sexual language/curses.

N.B. I have also seen this play so my review will encompass my understanding of both experiences.


What I liked…

The playwright was definitely onto something. The state of society is shocking, disgusting, and unfair, and these characters are aware of it – some more than others. The first character to realise the corruption of the self is Mark, the somewhat central character of Ravenhill’s disconcerting play, and he attempts to do something about his life. This is the only character who attempts to do something relatively normal in the play.

His “flatmates”, Robbie and Lulu, are quite relatable as they struggle with finding a purpose in a society revolves around money. Robbie, in particular, delivers a heartfelt monologue about the state of society:

ROBBIE:

I was looking down on this planet. Spaceman over this earth. And I see this kid in Rwanda, crying, but he doesn’t know why. And this granny in Kiev, selling everything she’s ever owned. And this president in Bogota or … South America. And I see the suffering. And the wars. And the grab, grab, grab.

And I think: Fuck Money. Fuck it. This selling. This buying. This system. Fuck the bitching world and let’s be … beautiful. Beautiful. And happy. You see?

(p.40)

There are several other moments like this throughout the play, and those particular moments made the play stay with me for a lot longer after reading.

What I disliked…

In-Yer-Face theatre is either a hit or miss. There are so many vulgar and sexual expletives and references that I found the text overwhelming to read at times. I found Mark rather boring compared to Robbie, Lulu, and Gary, his character just went full cycle and that was that. Perhaps that was Ravenhill’s intention.

Why did I read it?

Having seen the play, I wanted to experience the monologues that moved me again.

Does the playwright have other works?

Mark Ravenhill has written several other plays, Handbag, Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat, and Some Explicit Polaroids.

Overall…

If you like challenging, disturbing drama, then this play is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

Theatre Reviews

Theatre Review: Angels in America

 

angels in america cast
National Theatre’s Angels in America. Top (left to right): Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield, and Russell Tovey. Bottom (left to right) Denise Gough and James McArdle.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Play: Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Playwright: Tony Kushner

Director: Marianne Elliott

Summary: The play follows a group of people who are struggling to understand the world around them in mid 80s America, and as the third-millennium approaches, it is realised that everything will change.

N.B. I watched Angels in America in two parts via a National Theatre Live broadcast. I also have read Angels in America prior (wait a minute, did you just make a pun Melissa? – YOU BET I DID!) to seeing a live performance of it.

What I liked…

Angels in America is a modern epic, a web of interconnecting social, political, racial, spiritual issues. It is a must see for anyone who loves theatre and/or literature. In all honesty, I was not that impressed when I first heard of the cast.  However, after witnessing the plays, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, a week apart, I could tell that the actors were very much invested in their roles.

The main characters, Roy Cohn, Prior Walter, Louis Ironson, Harper Pitt, and Joe Pitt, are the epicentres of the plays. Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn (the only character based on a real person) was incredibly vibrant, disturbing, violent, and hilarious; he delivered his lines with authenticity, even in moments of silence. His performances were my favourite.

James McArdle was also incredibly committed to his troubled character, Louis, delivering some intense monologues that were both baffling and enlightening. I think that sums up Louis Ironson, to be honest. McArdle’s relentless emotional energy was not forced at all. In a similar light, Denise Gough particularly shone in her monologues; her character, Harper, seemed to take up the whole stage. Harper’s thoughts and feelings seemed organically produced by Gough, which made Harper seem tangible to the audience.

What I disliked…

Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Prior Walter did not sit right with me. His performance felt hollow and fabricated, which was disappointing considering his character’s major role in the events of Kushner’s play. Vocally, Garfield seemed to settle into a stereotype, which became grating after a while.

Russell Tovey’s performance was possibly the worst out of the main cast. His lack of vocal control was displeasing to the point that I winced at his shouting. In terms of his physical performance, he did not seem grounded in his character, which was noticeable in the moments of high energy.

The staging and set of Angels in America was just all right. The set changes seemed too long. I found some of the camera angles random, although it did allow me to see some of the characters who were still deliberately on stage, but I am not sure if the London theatre audience could see this or not.

Why did I see it?

Having been confused by the text, seeing it was a must.

Would I see another National Theatre production?

Yes, Angels in America was quite a feat and was treated very well by NT.

Overall…

This cast of Angels in America was not my absolute favourite, but I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing Kushner’s epic in the flesh (relatively). It is a play that I will continue to see again and again.

– Melissa Jennings

 

Theatre Reviews

Theatre Review: The Crucible

 

theatre royal the crucible
Victoria Yeates (Elizabeth Proctor) and Charlie Condou (Reverend Hale) in Selladoor Productions’ The Crucible

 

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Play: The Crucible

Playwright: Arthur Miller

Director: Douglas Rintoul

Form: Tragedy

Performance Date: 5 Jun. 2017

Venue: Theatre Royal Glasgow

Summary: Based on real events that occurred in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, rumours of witchcraft arise due to a group of young girls found dancing in the forest at night.

The Good

Eleanor Montgomery (as Ann Putnam) was particularly harrowing as she conveyed her superstitious fears as she relayed her grief to Reverend Parris about losing her seven children. In addition, David Kirkbride interpreted John Proctor in a different light, in a more playful manner, which I had not interpreted before, until the final scene where Kirkbride truly revealed Proctor’s pride.

However…

Walking into the auditorium, I was met with dark throbbing music that seemed to set the tone for the play, however, I was deeply disappointed in the production overall.

The cast

I felt that some of the cast did not connect with the text, or as a matter of fact, with each other, so it became a rather disjointed performance. Cornelius Clarke (Reverend Parris) proceeded to scream his lines repeatedly throughout the production which eventually became tiring. Lucy Keirl (Abigail Williams) moved around the stage in such an awkward fashion, it looked as if she had not rehearsed. Victoria Yeates (Elizabeth Proctor) and Charlie Condou (Reverend Hale), as shown above, lacked energy and presence on stage; in particular, Condou who seemed disconnected or distracted during the production.

The set

The set was clean and simple, but that did not seem to stop the actors from blocking each other during some scenes. A strange aspect of the play was the overhead text from which was displayed at certain moments – particularly entrances. I felt it was unnecessary as it took away from the action below.

Why did I read it?

Arthur Miller’s play was one of the first plays I ever properly read in secondary school. Having re-read it last year, I knew it was a play that I had to see, so I jumped at the chance to see it at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow.

Has the theatre company produced other plays?

Selladoor Productions has produced an array of shows: a modern adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, R. C. Sheriff’s Journey’s End, and William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Overall…

I think the main issue with this production was the direction and perhaps some of the character choices. To me, there was not enough connection to Miller’s themes of paranoia, manipulation, and suspicion, which makes this play so engrossing and disturbing to experience.

– Melissa Jennings

Theatre Reviews

Theatre Review: Jane Eyre

JANE EYRE UK Tour 2017Royal National Theatre
National Theatre and British Old Vic’s Jane Eyre

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Play: Jane Eyre (based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë)

Director: Sally Cookson

Form: Drama/Literary Adaptation

Performance Date: 7 Jun. 2017

Venue: Theatre Royal Glasgow

Summary: A young orphan, Jane Eyre, is raised by her reluctant aunt, Mrs Reed, and attempts to find her place in the world in nineteenth century Northern England.

The Good

What I enjoyed about this production was its fluidity, each scene was connected through either movement or music. The fluidity of the scenes made Jane’s development much clearer. In addition to this, right from the beginning, the cast was incredibly supportive of each other onstage; an incredible amount of energy was present throughout the two acts, you could feel it in the audience.

An actor that stood out to me, in particular, was Melanie Marshall, whose haunting vocals intensified Jane’s key moments of developments. I will not mention Melanie Marshall’s specific role in the play as it will spoil the plot of Jane Eyre, so if you plan on reading Jane Eyre ever, do not look up what Melanie Marshall’s role is! Moreover, I found Cookson’s focus on Marshall’s role rather refreshing as I had not seen her role as important before. On a side note, I only read Jane Eyre at the beginning of 2017, and seeing the production made Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece even better!

However…

I do believe it was rather ambitious of Cookson to take on Brontë’s famous novel, and I think the production underwhelmed in areas.

The cast

I was disappointed in Hannah Bristow’s stale portrayal of Helen Burns. Bristow’s characterisation was not what I was expecting; she didn’t seem connected to what she was saying and she later portrayed Grace Poole and Diana Rivers in a similar manner. There was not a clear distinction between these characters. Nonetheless, I did enjoy Bristow’s portrayal of young Adele, who was bursting with energy! Nadia Clifford, who played Jane Eyre, struggled to project her voice during Jane’s older scenes with Rochester, but then at other times, Clifford, increased her volume at random intervals. In a similar way, when Evelyn Miller portrayed St John, she also struggled with her volume, however, I enjoyed Miller as Bessie, whose warmth radiated the stage and changed Jane’s posture.

The set

The stage was set from the beginning; a series of connecting wooden platforms with ladders and stairs with a wooden runaway, with the musicians tucked between the platform and runaway. From walking into the auditorium, I knew the play was not going to be an elaborate production of Brontës novel; the play would be focused on Jane’s movement, not the change of environment.

Despite this interesting choice by Cookson and cast, the use of the set and the movements of the actors became repetitive. The majority of the actors constantly climbed up and down the platforms which slowed the scenes down considerably.

Why did I see it?

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels of all time. I had to see it onstage. It was also my first National Theatre production!

Has the theatre company produced other plays?

National Theatre is currently staging a production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Common, a new play by DC Moore, and Salome, another new play by Yaël Farber. Bristol Old Vic is currently home to Tristan and Yseult, a Kneehigh theatre production.

Overall… 

Cookson’s Jane Eyre was innovative but it lacked Bronte’s intricate characterisation. I think the production had some interesting imagery and staging but since it was so character-driven, the performance appeared to lack depth.

– Melissa Jennings